Roy Exum: What’s Become Of Roy?

Sunday, March 17, 2019 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Today I must begin by telling my readers how humbled and touched I am by the dozens of emails I have received in recent weeks, all concerning my daily disappearance from this website. I like to think my daily musings may, in some way, have a ripple effect on some of the people, the places, and the things that intrigue me. I believe I have rarely sought popularity, but I adore it when I can stimulate others to be either pro or con, as we create changes for the common good.

Since July of last year, I have endured five surgeries, each attracting a lifelong disease I carry that is known as Osteomyelitis. This blood-bone disease at one time killed a lot of people but with today’s modern medicine it is kept at bay with antibiotics. The bad part is that anytime I undergo surgery the germs we try so hard to suppress come a-calling and have one heckuva party.

For instance, in the past month my infectious disease doctors gave the green light for me to take another try at another artificial knee. Anyone who has undergone ‘a total knee’ understands it is a major ordeal, a major surgery with a lot of pain and anxiety and, as I like to say, it knocks you to your knees.

My new knee lasted 18 days. That’s how quickly the osteomyelitis pounced, and my infections returned. In less than three weeks time, I was taken back to the operating room and last week the prosthetic knee had to be removed. Rejection surgery is the worst, with no choice because prosthetic cannot respond to the antibiotics, which are only effective on living tissue. So, you are once again not only going through surgery, now you are real sick and going through surgery.

This time was so bad they never removed the stitches from one surgery to the next. I even got my first blood transfusion last week and whoever the blood came from sure liked to sleep a lot. Right now I have no right knee cavity – only a temporary ‘spacer’ – and combined with my lack of a right elbow, when I stumble and fall, the art of standing back up is a genuine circus act.

Adding to this latest melee is the fact I am just a few weeks this side of my 70th birthday. Old ain’t for sissies. With too many hospital nights, compulsory pain meds, add the stress and the rest, so imagine the emotion so many of you triggered in me with your daily, “What’s become of Roy?" How humbling, it is indeed, when people I have never known nor just as much never meet send notes that to me are beyond riches of silver or gold.

That rash of emails from those who took the time to care – almost all total strangers --and, sweet Jesus, I become every bit as emotionally unraveled with each as I know you would.

I guess that when you have any surgeries, with spending the following nights in the hospital, it will knock the strongest among us to our knees, or – in my case – the only other one I’ve got.  The pain, the fear, the anxiety, that morning’s inevitable operating room, enduring the procedure itself … it all mounts up. Brother, it’s even worse when you know from experience what is coming.

I’ll never forget Johnny Majors’ great line, “I’m three inches away from hell – but I’m travelling in the right direction.

I promise you, I’m on the rebound. I’ll be back to myself in no time and, when I am released to drive a car, I know it won’t be much longer before I’ll be back to my story-tellin’.

I have shared this before but in the sport of rodeo, there has never been a bronc rider who ain’t been throwed. The announcer yells, “Rider down! Rider down” and a silent pall overtakes the area. With everybody looking, it is sometimes a few long moments before the throwed man begins to move. Finally, he gets to his feet, spits the dust from his mouth and wipes his eye.

He finds his hat, dusts his Wranglers and holds up a gloved hand. He nods to the judges and tells the gateman, “Next ride.” That’s when the announcer yells “Cowboy up! Cowboy up!” and the fans go crazy. I love that, and, while I am not quite ready to call “Next Ride,” I’ll be darned if I am not far away from trying to be a cowboy, not just a rider. I believe we all ought to shoot for that mark and I also believe there are oh so many of us just inches away from such a daily distance. “Cowboy Up!” my friend.

That’s it – “There ain’t never been a rider who ain’t been throwed … and there has never been a horse that can’t be cowboy rode. Pal, in life you gotta’ ride one way or the other. Cowboy up!

With my 18-day rejection of this latest prostheses, I must take antibiotics every day for the rest of my life. It’s up-in-the-air over what we’ll do without a right knee. I’ve been without a right elbow for the last ten years, a long-sleeved shirt hiding the brace I wear every day. My right arm – without the elbow structure – is four inches shorter than my left arm. I get by pretty well “one handed. This in spite of the fact my right arm is what polite people call “ornamental.”

The knee challenge is different. It’s tough to walk without a knee and, right now, we are now eight months and five surgeries in the struggle so we’ll play it down and pray it up. Something good will happen – always does. And let me share a secret: My Jesus is undefeated.

I have tough spells with a different case about my other disease. It too is one that is terminal, very much in the “casket’ category. The only thing that keeps it at bay is … you. I love to write, to care about people. I champion the underdog, the down-trodden, those whose my words I might help. This is the only way, I believe, that I keep my sanity – so help me that’s the truth – and I hope it lasts my lifetime.

Today I am amused and quite grateful that this time last week, as I shook through the throes of opioid withdrawal, I wondered many times – seriously – what I should do in this fourth quarter of my life. I am alone. My family is gone. I rent my cabin. I think I’d like the South Carolina coast. I wonder a lot about how to live the happiest in whatever time I have left on this earth.

But during the past week, my thoughts have shifted toward more pressing matters, such as:

* -- OUR WASTEWATER CATASTROPHE: Please, this is not just the northern part of Hamilton County, it's where all of us live. I hear the consent decree is done but where is it? Enough stupidity – let us see it and savor the thought-planning that will follow the anger.

* -- THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS BUDGET: Yes, I’m athletics' biggest advocate, but to ignore we have a discipline problem is far more important. This ought to be a major line item, right next to our terribly pressing mental needs in every single school. (And with the Governor’s enthusiastic funding of the terrorists among us, does that ease the county’s burden in funding school resource officers?) If so, Sheriff Hammond should be funded whatever it takes when his officers must physically restrain a kid at a school. The sheriff would love – for lack of a better name – a Juvenile Crisis Team with trained psychologists who could tend to an emotional child or teenager in an urgent setting.

* -- OUR PUBLIX CATASTROPHE – What? The developers have asked for an extension rather than meet with the Variance clowns on the first Monday in April. Oh, yes, Publix wanted to build a multi-million-dollar  grocery that would breathe such life into our horribly-ill south sector. But we have “urbanists” who make ridiculous demands that are now the plague of our city. The roaches must be removed no matter the Publix outcome and, brother, I’m hungry to brawl with morons who don’t know ‘jack’ about our real citizens.

* -- BILL KILBRIDE TO TVA BOARD – Go ahead, let the leftist media bash President Trump but when Bill Kilbride, who made our Chamber the best in the nation, was nominated to become a TVA Vice President, I wanted to send Donald a box of chocolates. People have no idea how beautifully Chattanooga will be impacted but I do. Sonny boy, fetch the firecrackers and the balloons! Kilbride’s appointment is easily one of Chattanooga’s biggest triumphs in 2019. I can’t wait to hobble his way. Wow!

* * *

Can’t you see? Instead of dreamy stuff in the middle of the night my mind is filling with real stuff. I promised the doctors I would go slow, taking time to mend and get my energy/weight/blood labs/pain and all else aligned.

But, hey, if you bump into the “gateman,” whisper the word is I’m trying to catch his eye, want to raise my glove and holler “Next Ride.” My birthday cake with 70 candles? To quote Lou Holtz, “Just set the whole damn thing on fire.”  I’ll be Cowboy Up long before then.


So there I was, in a Vanderbilt Hospital bed, struggling with the surgeries and the pain and throwing up, and through the darkness came a situation that is so God-sent it left me gasping.

Let’s face it.  I’ve been a scourge to the Wastewater Treatment Authority in the past few months for what I believe is total ineptness and disregard for the very ones it is meant to serve. We’ve still got a long way to go with the WWTA, believe me, and they are still due a whipping or two, not to mention the bloody nose when that consent decree goes public.

I finally get back home a week ago today and – what’s this – no water. I purposely keep a surplus in my Tenn-American account so what’s the deal? It ain’t us, I was told, you’ve just been got by the WWTA because of failure to pay a bill for $20. I could hardly stop laughing, even as I paid these Mighty-Mites the $125 re-connection fee.

The reminder is obvious and not lost on me:

Never get too big for your own britches.

- - -

I deeply regret I cannot respond to many emails due to the volume, but I read them all and, again, I am grateful and honored. Thank you.

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